Cinchona or Quina is a genus of about 38 species in the Rubiaceae family, long known for its healing properties, which were originally discovered by the Inca people of Peru and Bolivia.
The bark is medicinally active, containing a variety of alkaloids, which include the anti-fever agent quinine – used in particular as a treatment against malaria.
Spanish Jesuit missionaries visiting Peru in the seventeenth century first learned of the powers of Cinchona, and in 1630 recommended its use when the wife of the viceroy of Peru, Countess of Chinchón, was taken ill with malaria in Lima.
It became a highly sought-after commodity through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly among Europeans whose health it helped sustain as they sought to exploit resources in far off colonies.
Cinchona calisaya, above, is the tree most cultivated for quinine production.
Left, a 17th century engraving called ‘Peru offers a branch of cinchona to Science’.